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Footballing community come together for Darragh Walsh’s final journey

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The funeral of Darragh Walsh leaves St John’s Church, The Neale, in the direction of the Neale crossroads, for the local cemetery on Darragh’s final journey.
FINAL JOURNEY?The funeral of Darragh Walsh leaves St John’s Church, The Neale, in the direction of the Neale crossroads, for the local cemetery on Darragh’s final journey.?Pic: Michael Donnelly

Darragh Walsh comes home


Willie McHugh


THE crossroads in The Neale. One of south Mayo’s great interconnects. You can go anywhere in the world from there. It’s where all of Darragh Walsh’s great journeys of life started out from. That’s why only a few short weeks ago he came back to this very pointing. He detoured from London on his way to Qatar where his work as a Quantity Surveyor was taking him now. Not just back to set the compass for the long trek, but also to spend time in the bosom of the family. To relax and recharge the batteries in the company of ‘mam’ and ‘dad’, Gerry and Miriam. To spend precious time with his siblings Ciara, Síle, Shane and Pádraic, and enjoy a game of football with his nephew Daniel.
To pack the good wishes of his grandparents, along with the football boots he always carried in a travel bag that doubled as a kit bag. A socialising farewell with his friends and colleagues before heading off to the land where Arabian nights don’t even follow Ireland evenings.
Darragh Walsh had only a few days of living in Qatar. Last Saturday morning week, word reached home that he was fatally injured in a road accident. News that numbed the village and community. The ferris wheel of fun handbraked to a halt around The Neale, Cross and Cong. All the pre-planned events were erased from the diary of the social calendar.
The Other Abbey Players postponed the staging of their play The Communication Cord due to take place in Cong. The region didn’t have the heart for fun and entertainment. Life would provide its own drama now. Other rehearsals took precedent as The Neale and its environs prepared for the coming home so soon again of Darragh Walsh.
At the long stone on Friday his colleagues waited in the evening dusk and chaperoned him through the village. On Saturday evening mourners filed for hours in an ever-lengthening queue in Ballinrobe. They talked in the dialogue of slow walking. They traded words of everyday banter about the mighty spell of weather, the Christmas almost upon us, and whisperings of the shocking tragedies visited on both The Neale and Ballindine this week.
One man remembered Darragh cutting the lawn for him and him bending down to remove scutch grass that the strimmer wouldn’t reach. “I took special notice of him because you don’t often see that kind of taste in a young fella,” he said.
Football chat was the most common denominator because it was the strongest strand in Darragh Walsh’s DNA. Between his mother’s Miriam’s people, the Hynes from Claran direction beyond Headford, and the Walsh’s, it couldn’t but be in him.
As a kid growing up his uncles would have imparted their footballing skills to him in the back garden of his Creevagh home. How to hop, solo and score. And be certain it was they who also forged that bit of steel he had in his game into him also because few opponents got much loose change from the Walshes on the field of play.
The Walsh name featured on most teams from the parish and Darragh played it into the inner football sanctum as a member of the historic Neale team that won the 2012 Mayo Junior Football championship.
They lit bonfires to welcome their all-conquering history carvers’ home that November evening. Now only a few chimes beyond the year, they lit nightlights to guide Darragh Walsh up that road again.

HEAVEN sent The Neale a leftover day from a brilliant summer for Darragh Walsh’s funeral Mass. With St John’s Church packed to overflowing, Advent’s opening Sunday was mild enough to sit on chairs outside. But as his dad Gerard said in his moving eulogy to a son and brother, ‘Darragh could always gather a crowd’.  
And sitting among the mourners were other families from The Neale who had also lived through their own sad days. They’d come to terms enough with their grief to now support the Walsh family through their dark days. Times like this a community shows its true worth.
They listened in respectful silence as chief celebrant Fr Paddy Gilligan spoke of Darragh’s kindness. Of how he finished a summer job with Brendan Conroy and went back to Brendan’s home with a gift by way of thanks for the work. Of Darragh phoning home and telling his sister Síle to go to his room where he’d left some money on his last visit for her birthday.
The Neale jersey Darragh always filled big resting on the coffin. Beside it the shirt of Shannon Blues team in Boston. On the day they won the North American championship, it was Darragh who hit the winning point.
The local football field was the first port of call on any of Darragh Walsh’s travels. He had already trained with Qatar in his short spell there. His newfound club-mates and his employers stayed with him after his fateful accident until he began the long road home.
In the church, Fr Pat Farragher, a neighbour from the opposite hammer of The Neale crossroads, read the gospel. The Neale Choir and Evangeline Morrin sang in heavenly harmony. His dad Gerry afforded him the honour of a fitting fatherly tribute.
Tommie and Pat McGovern sang the county anthem, ‘The Green and Red of Mayo’ and played a haunting version of Kavanagh’s ‘Raglan Road’.
Then to the strains of ‘Going Home’ his friends and sporting colleagues carried Darragh Walsh shoulder high down by the pyramids to his resting place. He was home, and this is how they honour great homecomings around The Neale. They took him down one last time towards the crossroads where he lived life forever young.
Where all of his journeys of life began.

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